As nearly half of all international migrants and 55 to 72 percent of remittance receivers, it is critical that public and private stakeholders take into consideration the special needs of women when it comes to leveraging the remittance value chain for financial inclusion. There is clear research on the important role remittances can play in improving financial inclusion; yet, while remittances steadily increase, financial inclusion gender gaps remain and can be as high as 24 percent in Asia and Africa. Remittances alone cannot close financial inclusion and gender gaps around the world, but there are interventions and considerations for operators and organisations implementing programming that can be more gender sensitive.
While the gender gap in formal financial inclusion might be persistent, that gap is smaller for mobile money use. This is due to a range of factors including its low-cost, security and the ability to paid and be paid by anyone with a similar account – even in rural and remote areas. Mobile money also has the added benefit of allowing women to be paid directly instead of through a third party, giving them greater economic autonomy over what happens with the money received. Research shows that as remittance receivers, women tend to “spend remitted money on the nutritional, educational and healthcare needs of household members, especially children.” As remittance senders, women send smaller amounts more frequently, meaning they can be subject to more transaction fees in the long term, but also points to the importance of low-cost solutions for small transfers for them – hence the importance of mobile and other digital transfers.
In most parts of the world, women still undertake the vast majority of care work inside and outside the home. This often means their ‘work,’ obligations and commitments look considerably different to that of men’s both on the sending and receiving side. Remittance programs and products must take these and other cultural norms into consideration when targeting remittance families – whether those are the migrant workers sending money home or the families receiving the money.
Remittance & Financial Inclusion Programs and Services Must be Gender Sensitive
The importance of creating gender sensitive programs and services cannot be overstated. Often blanket programs and interventions that are assumed to be accessible to everyone can have unforeseen gender biases that exclude women even when they were meant to be ‘neutral.’ For example, imagine an NGO putting on a seminar on financial inclusion and helping people sign up for mobile money accounts at the end of the program. Perhaps they organize the meeting for 7pm (after typical work hours so more people can attend) and at a building just on the outskirts of town (perhaps their office is in that building). Theoretically, women are allowed to come as it’s a neutral event meant for everyone. But if it's already dark by then, and if it’s the time women are typically preparing food for the family or getting children ready for sleep, and it’s a bit of a distance for most women to access the location; then the organizers have inadvertently excluded women.
It is not enough to “not be sexist” in remittance programming and services. Stakeholders must go above and beyond in ensuring that their interventions and innovations are actively inclusive of women and other historically excluded groups. Some key questions when developing services and programs are: Is this accessible for men and women? For different age groups and disability considerations? For different ethnic and religious affiliations? Should we instead have different events and products targeted at these groups instead of “generic” ones?
Let’s go back to the example of our NGO that is financially educating people and registering them for mobile money accounts. As gender norms differ per society, they would need to do some analysis into the specific gender dynamics of that community and understand how women there spend their time. Perhaps work hours still aren’t convenient for the women in the community if many of them are informal or micro business owners with stalls in the market. Instead of trying to find a time that fits outside all the various obligations women might have inside and outside the home, they could look to partner with a group that already convenes the women regularly. Perhaps there is a women’s church association that meets monthly, or the market women already meet at designated time. The NGO could look to add their training as part of one of these gatherings or ask them when a convenient time would be. If all else fails, go door-to-door or stall-to-stall because it’s important that stakeholders meet people where they are.
Public and Private Finacial Organisations Need to Have Women in Leadership & Other Critical Positions
Another important thing to note in this example is that if the NGO had local women as part of its leadership and planning process, the original event might have already been much more inclusive. As members of the group that inadvertently got excluded, they would likely be aware of the needs and obligations of other women in their community and would have flagged the issue before it became one.
These lessons on gender sensitivity are equally important for private sector stakeholders looking to roll out new products and services. When developing products and doing outreach to market their services or register people for these products, remittance service providers and other operators must be analytical about if there are any unforeseen barriers in access. Having women in leadership and technical positions is also key, but they must not be tokenized or expected to speak on behalf of all women. Instead, in addition to having a diverse team, they must still do their due diligence in ensuring that their innovations make sense and are accessible given the specific gender dynamics of their target audience.
Questions for Stakeholders Analysing Women's Access to Remittance Services
Here are some questions that private and public sector stakeholders can ask themselves when thinking through how women access and use remittance service products. These questions are not exhaustive but allow stakeholders to begin to think through what invisible barriers might prevent women from fully leveraging remittances for financial inclusion.
Questions to ask on the send side:
- What types of jobs do immigrant women take up in the host country? Are they adequately paid and protected against maltreatment?
- Does the job encourage/allow them to be paid directly (as opposed to being paid by an agency or other third party)?
Questions on both sides:
- Is it culturally acceptable for women to own their own accounts? If no, how can this slowly be addressed? (Cultural practices take time to shift).
- Are there any barriers to opening a bank account or other formal financial account (for example: needing a consent letter from a spouse or employer; would women have to miss work or household obligations to go open an account?)
- Are financial education resources accessible and gender sensitive?
- Is this product easy to use with clear instructions, available in major languages in the area and taking into account different literacy levels?
- Are customer reps well trained in being gender sensitive, patient, and considerate of different client needs?
- Are MTO and mobile money agents in safe and accessible locations?
- Do they have opening and closing hours that are convenient for women?
Questions to ask on the receive side:
- Are there barriers to receiving remittances that would require women to need a male intermediary to get the money for them? (Literacy, identification, addressing or agent location issues should be considered).
- Once remittances are received digitally, are there enough accessible merchant locations for women to carry out the consumption needs for their households using digital channels? If they have to cash out – can this be done safely?
DMA Global is committed to helping to reduce the cost of remittances globally and supporting initiatives that allow remittances to be leveraged for digital and financial inclusion. We are especially committed to tackling the gender gaps that exist globally, but particularly in financial inclusion and access. We commend all stakeholders working towards these aims and most especially celebrate the migrants around the world who are working hard to support their families in host and origin countries.
About the Author: Omolayo Nkem Ojo is a Research Manager and Gender Specialist at DMA Global. She is a multi-lingual researcher and strategist with over ten years’ experience in the African migration and diaspora space. Her areas of expertise lie in gender and racial equality globally, diaspora engagement and investment, research methodologies, and remittances and digital financial inclusion.